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A Look at Where We’ve Been
old west physician and surgeon
Looking to the past helps inform our future.

A Look at Where We’ve Been

Forging a Path for Female Physicians

Cora Smith Eton, MD

In the late 1800s, when Washington was little more than a rural outpost on the farthest edge of a young nation, a handful of female physicians pioneered their way into the medical community. Among them, Cora Smith Eaton, MD, not only provided care for the community, she was also a renowned activist in the women’s suffrage movement.

By all accounts, she was also quite the outdoorswoman, as she took up mountain climbing when she moved to the state in 1906 (and provided medical advice to climbers). She was a founding member of The Mountaineers and became the first woman to summit the East Peak of Mount Olympus. Eventually, she climbed all six of Washington’s major mountains. Then in 1909, she joined a party of mountaineers, climbed Mount Rainier and planted a “Votes for Women” flag at the summit.

Her accomplishments were so notable that local Washington artists Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring honored her with a letterpress broadside in honor of the centennial of women’s suffrage. Here’s to Dr. Eaton for helping to forge the way for female physicians everywhere.

Stay Home, Stay Healthy

newsboy during the influenza pandemic of 1918

In early 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to “stay home, stay healthy” in the face of COVID-19 wasn’t the first time Washingtonians were compelled to ride out a pandemic at home. The influenza pandemic of 1918 reached Seattle in early autumn that year, just as the state was preoccupied with the demands of war. By October, hundreds of cases were recognized throughout the state. A severe shortage of doctors and nurses—many of whom were away at World War I—created further problems. State health officials banned public assemblies, closed businesses, and mandated the wearing of six-ply gauze masks. By September 1919, more than 2,000 deaths from the flu had been documented in Washington—more than the number of people who died from contagious diseases in our state between 1913-17.

WSMA Supports Physician Assistant Legislation

Gov. Dan Evans signs Senate Bill 182. MEDEX Founder Richard Smith, MD, stands to the governor's right.

The year was 1971, when then Gov. Dan Evans picked up his gubernatorial pen and signed enabling legislation that would allow trained physician assistants to practice medicine. Senate Bill 182 specified “each physician’s (sic) assistant shall practice medicine under the supervision and control of a physician licensed in this state, but supervision and control shall not be construed to necessarily require the personal presence of the supervising physician at a place where services are rendered.” Physician leaders within the WSMA provided crucial support of the legislation, eloquently and convincingly arguing for its necessity within and outside of the Legislature. Today, PAs are members of the WSMA along with physicians. In addition, they are now not only practicing in the United States, but also around the globe in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and some countries in Africa. Photo caption: Gov. Dan Evans signs Senate Bill 182. MEDEX Founder Richard Smith, MD, stands to the governor's right.

When Polio Ran Rampant

polio patient in iron lung and nurse with tray of food

During the battle during the 2019 legislative session to pass House Bill 1638, which removes the personal and philosophical exemption for the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine, WSMA member physicians reminded legislators that vaccines save lives and that prevention is preferable to cure.

This photo from the WSMA archives is a sober reminder of a time when polio epidemics rocked the country and devastated the lives of children. Here’s a shout-out to the legislators who stood on the side of science and did the right thing to ensure our state has hope for a future free of totally preventable diseases such as these.

The Cost of Care…in the Old Days

vintage price list for medical procedures

After the end of World War I in late 1918, the impact of care for returning veterans increased across Washington state, as elsewhere. Perhaps that’s why on the first day of the 1919 Annual Session of the House of Delegates, WSMA President Dr. H.P. Marshall felt compelled to appoint a “Committee on Advisory Fee Bill for the War Risk Bureau.” The committee’s charge was to take up the question of fees with the Insurance Commission. By the second day of the meeting, Drs. S.W. Mowers, C.W. Sharples, and C.H. Thomson suggested a long list of “proper fees to be charged by the physicians of this state in the care of returned soldiers.” In terms of the cost of care 100 years ago, those were surely the good ol’ days.

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